Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
OK, boys and girls, today’s question: How dumb are we?
Rather than accept random answers shouted out from the audience, let’s look at a specific case in point:
Our local governments have agreed to take action to try to save a patch of trees on Smuggler Mountain.
Yes, it’s an admittedly and sadly small patch of trees.
And, yes, the city and county managed to dither and flutter about until almost the last possible minute.
Still, they agreed to act – which is admirable.
But – keeping our focus on today’s official question – I have to stand back in amazement at the thought that this project became such a hot topic of debate.
I know we all pride ourselves on being so spunky, anti-authority, free-thinking, independent, blah, blah blah.
And I know it’s fun to stir up trouble. It’s fun to start up the fan, stand back and throw the … the … (oh dear, how to find an acceptable term for that which hits the fan – ah, yes!) throw the Republican talking points into the blades.
If we weren’t fighting about something – anything – it wouldn’t be Aspen.
Fair enough. But still, this one amazes me.
I’m sure you all know the basics: A plague of pine beetles – a plague of Biblical proportions – is sweeping down on us, wiping out millions of acres of trees. Nothing can really stop it (except a week or so of subzero temperatures), but there is strong evidence that an aggressive program can save relatively small areas.
One small Canadian town saved 70 percent of its pines, while everyone else in the region was losing 95 percent of theirs.
Hundreds of acres can be saved, amid the millions of acres that will be devastated. Better than nothing, right?
A local group has stood up, chipped in a lot of actual cash, and tried to lead the way to saving Smuggler Mountain.
Saving at least some of Smuggler Mountain, I should say.
The plan called for cutting down a hundred or so infected trees, hauling them away to be destroyed (which kills the beetles already in the tree) and then using a chemical to keep new flights of beetles out of the area.
So why was this something to fight over?
Here are some of the arguments that have been trotted out:
Argument No. 1: They’ll be “logging” Smuggler Mountain!
Well, yes, they’ll be cutting down trees. But the only trees they’ll cut down are ones that are already infested with beetles, which means they are doomed. So they’re cutting down trees that are going to die anyway – and die very soon.
Argument No. 2: We’ll have a forest of ugly stumps where the trees used to be!
Well, no. They have to get rid of the stumps too – because they’re infested with beetles.
Argument No. 3: The people pushing this plan are just a bunch of rich jerks who want to save their own views and property values.
OK, I admit, this is my favorite argument – because I love bashing rich jerks as much as anyone.
And, for sure, the people pushing the project are rich. (As I mentioned, they’re chipping in large amounts of their own money. Almost by definition, this means they’re rich. Who else has money in large amounts?)
But – and I hope this doesn’t shock anyone, coming from me – not all rich people are jerks.
And even if these guys are jerks (they may be, I have no way of knowing), that doesn’t mean this project won’t have great benefit for Aspen. Saving a chunk of the town’s nearest and most popular playground has to be good.
And even if this will preserve their views and property values, so what? If it’s good for all of us, why would we insist that it can’t be good for them too? (If they wanted to buy the Fire Department a new truck, would we say, “Screw that. They’re just worried that their houses might catch fire”? Know what? Some people probably would say that.)
If it’s good for everyone and they want to chip in, what’s the problem?
Argument No. 4: This whole thing is a fake panic, stirred up by those who believe in the “Global Warming Hoax”!
Admittedly, the beetle plague is being blamed on Global Warming (because winters are no longer cold enough to kill the beetles).
But even if you don’t believe in Global Warming, look around. Drive to Denver, zip over to Grand County. See all those “red and dead” trees? They’re no hoax. They are actual dead trees. And they’re coming this way.
Argument No. 5: I can’t understand what the heck they’re talking about!
That’s not a bad argument. I wish the people heading up the anti-beetle efforts would stop using words like “silviculture” and “pheromone” and “brood trees.”
Too bad, but I guess they just can’t help themselves. Too many of them are present (or former) government bureaucrats. That’s just how they talk.
Argument No. 6: It’s hopeless! We’re doomed anyway!
On the one hand, yes, of course. We are all doomed. That’s the way of life: It ends in death. On a wider scale, our sun is scheduled to run out of hydrogen and turn into a white dwarf star, dooming the entire solar system. That’s coming up in another 4 or 5 billion years. Set your watch.
On the other hand, get a grip! There’s nothing we can do about death (ours or the sun’s), but we can fight the damn beetles. Save most of the trees on a couple of hundred acres right next to town? Why not?
Argument No. 7: Let’s just wait for the inevitable forest fire that will barbecue the beetles and solve the whole thing!
Good thinking. And if a million acres of dead trees burn and take out a few towns and a few thousand people along with all those beetles … well, what the heck.
My only advice: Stock up on marshmallows.
Geez, Louise, people! How stupid are we?
Answer: As stupid as we need to be.
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